While not extensively studied, boron has been touted as having a number of beneficial effects. Some people take it to help treat osteoporosis or arthritis and to alleviate menopausal symptoms. It has been reported to enhance mental activity, memory, and hand-eye coordination. Some body builders and athletes take boron supplements as a muscle-enhancing agent despite the fact that there is no evidence to support this use. Overall, boron appears to have the most potential as a possible bonebuilder and brain booster.
The effects of boron on bone strength were investigated in a small study of 12 postmenopausal women between the ages of 48 and 82, published in the FASEB Journal in 1987. The women had received a low-boron diet (containing about 0.25 mg a day of the mineral) for several months before being given daily boron supplements of 3 mg. Once the women increased their intake of boron, they were able to retain more bone-building minerals such as calcium and magnesium. This effect was greater in women who started out with low levels of magnesium. Boron supplements also significantly increased levels of estrogen and testosterone, especially in the magnesium-deficient group. The results of this study suggest that getting an adequate amount of boron, whether through dietary intake or boron supplements, may help to maintain strong bones by allowing the body to use calcium and other important minerals more efficiently.
Most of the research suggesting that boron may be helpful for arthritis is indirect and circumstantial. Early studies in sheep and chickens indicated that boron may be useful in helping to treat the disease. There is also an interesting relationship between the incidence of arthritis and boron intake in certain geographical locations. In parts of the world where boron intake is high (intake can range anywhere from 3–10 mg), usually as a result of high boron levels in the soil and water, the number of people who develop arthritis tends to be lower than in areas where people consume less of the mineral. Boron levels in the water and soil are usually highest in arid climates, such as the desert regions of the United States and South America, the Red Sea region of the Middle East, and parts of Australia. There are few human studies of boron in relation to arthritis, although one small investigation in people has suggested that boron may help to relieve symptoms of the disease.
While there is some evidence that boron may be helpful in the treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis, the mineral does not appear to ease the symptoms associated with menopause. In a five-week study involving 46 menopausal women, about 50% of those who received boron supplements experienced more frequent and severe hot flashes (as well as night sweats) and generally had an increase in menopausal symptoms. Over a third of the women who received boron reported that the mineral made no difference at all in their symptoms. Boron had a beneficial effect in only 15% of the women who took it. These findings suggest that boron may actually aggravate menopausal symptoms more often than it alleviates them.
Researchers from the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center, which is affiliated with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), investigated the role of boron in brain and psychological function in several studies involving humans and animals. In one study, increasing boron intake in rats receiving a boron-deficient diet seemed to increase mental activity. Studies conducted in people suggested that a lack of boron can decrease mental activity and have a negative effect on hand-eye coordination, the ability to concentrate, and short-term memory. These findings seem to indicate an important role for boron in keeping the brain fit.
The use of boron by body builders stems from its apparent ability to increase testosterone levels. Because testosterone is known to play an important role in the development of muscles, some weight lifters have taken boron supplements because they believe it will increase levels of male hormone and make them stronger. There is no evidence, however, that boron can increase muscle mass or athletic performance. Boron supplements are generally not considered effective as a muscle-enhancing agent.
Greg Annussek, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,